There was a point after the second

The Fast and the Furious

sequel that the summer movie franchise appeared to have run out of road. Now, of course, you can't kill it with a stick shift.

What changed? A slick but slight saga about nitro-charged street racers and the gearhead groupies who love them has gotten progressively bigger, louder, and more lavish each time out of the garage.

Cops and criminals alike now flit around the world on private jets. And the ever-expanding crew around Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) battles foes worthy of James Bond.

Throughout Fast & Furious 6, the good guys insist that the evil mastermind (Luke Evans) they are pursuing this time is on "a whole different level."

So is the film, saturated with more firepower, more havoc, more special effects, more pedal-through-the-metal chase scenes and far more property destruction.

The plot and dialogue are still stilted and stupid, but that only proves that Justin Lin, who has directed the last four F & Fs, has his priorities straight.

Diesel's gang (Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Sung Kang, and Gal Gadot) are living in far-flung splendor since the caper in Fast Five made them all multimillionaires. (The setup would be tedious were it not for the fact that you get to hear Ludacris speaking Spanish, um, fluently.)

They are lured back into action by two badge holders (welcome addition Gina Carano and Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, who shines in this less demanding role - of course, that could be the baby oil). The bait? Dom's soul mate Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) may still be alive.

This chick has more lives than a clowder of cats. And she may need them because she's pitted against former MMA champ Carano in the baddest fight scenes in the film. The three-knockdown rule is not in effect.

In a twist straight out of "The Bizarro Jerry" episode of Seinfeld, the outlaw outfit is made up of mirror images of Dom and Brian's fellowship.

After innumerable explosions and a stunning expo of high-performance vehicles, the climactic showdown takes place on a runway so long it's positively existential.

You might want to spring for the jumbo bucket of popcorn, because Fast & Furious 6, like its immediate predecessor, breaks the two-hour barrier.

That means appreciably more bang for your buck. And a shorter wait for Fast & Furious 7, now in preproduction.

Fast & Furious 6 *** (Out of four stars)

Directed by Justin Lin. With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, and Gina Carano. Distributed by Universal.

Running time: 2 hours, 10 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (intense action, adult themes)

Playing at: area theatersEndText